my freelancing story.

Posted on: Wednesday, March 19, 2014

My Freelance Story | Ann-Marie Espinoza

I should start off by saying, I never intended to be a freelancer.

While it’s the lifestyle I’ve always dreamt about, it’s not something I imagined I would ever really have the guts to dive into headfirst. But life has a funny way of throwing you into situations you never expected and showing you that you are capable of so much more than you know.

A little about my background: I graduated from San Diego State in 2009 with a degree in Multimedia Design. At the time, I had no clear direction as to where I was going to go with my career. Using the economy as a blanket excuse for any and all problems is a tired justification, but if I can be real for a moment, graduating smack dab in the middle of the recession was terrible. TERRIBLE. I had zero job prospects when I was handed my diploma. Not a one. I moved back home with my parents and took on odd gigs here and there (medical billing, anyone?). I remember interviewing for temporary work at the mall that following November and going up against people who were far more qualified and far more educated than the job would ever require. And the result of those interviews? Futile. I couldn’t even get part-time, minimum wage, seasonal work! Needless to say, it wasn’t a high point in my 27 years.

But then in 2010, I applied for an In-House Scrapbooker / Product Designer position as American Crafts. I was absolutely positive that I would never get the job (I lived in Southern California, the position was based in Utah), but within three weeks, John and I were living in Orem, Utah. Life is weird, you guys.

Working at my (then) dream job was an amazing, invaluable, unforgettable experience that taught me so much about design, marketing, and finding things to do on a Sunday in the Mormon bible belt. But almost two years into the job, I was unexpectedly laid off. I was crushed. I was shocked. I was panicked. There was no way in hell that John and I were going to stay in Utah a single minute longer, but how in the world were we going to pay for all of our moving expenses and still have money left over once we got to California?

Out of desperation, I posted a few rubber stamp designs (that I had previously made for myself) in my online shop, not expecting anyone to buy them. Within an hour after posting, I had a handful of sales. I couldn’t believe it! People really wanted to buy my designs? This was incredible! And that’s where the ball got rolling. The sales continued to grow and grow and for the first time ever, I truly believed I could support myself without the steady financial backing of a company. I had cash flow and confidence. Things were looking up.

By the time I returned home to California (peace out, Utah), I begin working part time with Amy Tan, taking on various freelance design projects, and selling more and more stamp designs in my shop. I was lucky enough to receive some press from big names including Swiss Miss, Oh Hello Friend,, Cup of Jo, Uncovet, and a handful of others, which helped launched my business even further than I ever imagined. Each day was a new adventure and I couldn’t believe I was actually getting to live life on my own terms!

Over the past two years, I’ve grown my business in different ways. I’ve expanded my shop to include new products. I’ve put my graphic design background to work on various freelance projects. I’ve tried my hand at producing e-courses. I’ve creatively collaborated with various individuals and companies. I’ve blogged professionally. I’ve delved deeper into photography and styling. And as always, I’ve continued to craft and make things with my hands. I’m nowhere near where I want to be professionally, but I have full faith that I will get there in due time.

Now, living in Pasadena with my husband and a baby on the way, I’m still freelancing and enjoying the adventure that it is. I will admit that life is getting more and more expensive all the time (private health insurance, car repairs, and baby expenses are a few of the big culprits) and there are many occasions when money can be tight. I’m fortunate that my husband works a steady 8-5 job as a graphic designer, so the consistency of his paycheck helps to balance out the unpredictability of my income greatly. But the truth is, we are a team. I feel just as responsible for our financial future as John does, so we both do our part to make sure we are creating a solid fiscal foundation month after month.

Even though everyday is a different experience and I often ask myself “WHAT AM I DOING?!,” it’s an amazingly gratifying life and I’m so happy to be along for the ride.

  • jen

    That day was the worst. I’m glad you’re doing so well and thriving.

  • Jennifer

    Thanks so much for sharing this honest story, Ann Marie! It can be so easy for people (me!) to land at your blog and imagine that you have a close to perfect life working freelance/from home. I also graduated grad school in the middle of the recession and know how you feel about applying and working at jobs that don’t require that kind of education, and feeling frustrated that all the career plans I had for myself may or may not come true, but will certainly take much longer to get there than I thought! So glad you found your way :)

  • Kim

    ah, I so needed to read this, thank you for your honesty. I am lucky to be planning a career change in 3.5 years, the problem is that I don’t know what I want to do next. *sigh*

  • Tracy

    Thanks for sharing this. It’s good to know that it is possible. I’m currently undertaking a portfolio career and was beginning to wonder if I should just quit and get a ‘proper’ job! You have inspired me to keep going.

  • Vanessa

    I always wondered what living in Utah must be like – it seems naturally very stunning but the religious atmosphere isn’t for me. Glad you made it back home to California :) Myself, I am in a similar situation – my husband works full time as designer, I am at home with baby (contemplating freelancing in future in design – I used to be a designer). How do you afford to live in California on one salary if you don’t mind me asking? I desperately want to live there some day!! I’m happy for your success story. It isn’t easy to get noticed, but I’m sure it must feel great once you do.

    • Ann-Marie Morris

      Hi Vanessa! Your description of Utah is spot-on ;) Living in California is insanely expensive, but to my husband and me, it’s a non-negotiable. We were born + raised here, our families are here, and this is where we want to stay, so we make sacrifices (like putting off buying a home for a few years, downsizing to a single car) where need be. It’s a trade-off, but 100% worth it.

  • Natanya

    So happy that you’ve made the freelancing life work for you! It’s an inspiration for sure, but also a reminder that life can take us through a winding road to eventually land us back where we *started* but in an even better place than before.

  • Steffi

    Hello Ann-Marie,

    thank you for this honest but still (for me) very inspiring post!

    All the best from Austria,

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